The Israel-Palestine conflict could “explode” under the presidency of Donald Trump, longtime Israel supporter David Makovsky warned on Sunday in New York.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are capable of a series of eight or nine missteps that could lead to an outbreak of greater violence in Palestine and across the region, Makovsky said in an appearance at the 92d Street Y. “I worry… it is going to cause an explosion.”
Makovsky, a former State Department aide who is now an expert at the Israel lobby group the Washington Institute, detailed some of those possible missteps:
The Israelis are now so “spun up” about the UN Security Council vote against settlements that there is a major push to colonize more of Palestine. “Netanyahu is the most leftwing member of his government,” Makovsky said. He has failed to get anyone to his left inside the coalition and the result is that the center doesn’t hold. “He’s riding the tiger and going along for the ride.”
The Israelis are pushing Trump for a demonstration of support for their claims to Palestinian territories. The UN vote, Makovsky said, is “forcing them to want to force Trump to do something soon.” If Trump gives Israel the go-ahead on its colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, Netanyahu will lose his “excuse” that Americans oppose the occupation, and he could become “intertwined” with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and there will be no check on expansionism.
Bennett will push for “76 outposts” to be legalized on the east side of Israel’s wall inside the West Bank; and there will be a push to “settle everywhere.”
Trump wants to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. But moving the embassy would “require a lot of political spadework on the part of the new administration” that it may not be capable of, Makovsky said: talking to Arab leaders, talking to Palestinians, going on satellite TV and saying, This is West Jerusalem, this has nothing to do with East Jerusalem, that’s for negotiation. But even with that kind of p.r., Arabs across the region may well hear: “America has decided Jerusalem belongs to the Jews.” The result could be violence against American embassies across the region.
“The Jordanians said Friday, this is terrible, it could lead to an explosion in our country, don’t do it. Ironically Arabs might have more influence on Israel than the US in trying to hold it back,” Makovsky said.
Trump’s choice for American ambassador to Israel, the settler supporter David Friedman, is already letting it be known now that he wants to visit West Bank settlements Beit El and Hebron. “The American ambassador doesn’t even cross the green line,” Makovsky said; “but what if he does a celebratory visit?”
The Israelis have withheld infrastructure supplies from going to the besieged Gaza Strip because they wanted the Palestinian Authority to reap the political rewards of such aid; but the result is that the water will soon be undrinkable in Gaza, and even Israeli generals are warning that there could be a fourth war to follow the three of 2008, 2012, and 2014. “The cycles are shorter and the wars get longer.”
Makovsky said that the Palestinians could decide to join several UN agencies that it has not joined, causing the U.S. to seek to defund those agencies, including the World Health Organization. And the Palestinian Authority could decide to give up its role of maintaining order in Area A of the West Bank.
“The PA could say, We give up. You occupy it; it’s yours, you take care of it.”
He went on: “It’s not just one plus one. It’s 1 1 1 1 1 1– it’s 8 or 9 of these things I could think of… My concern is not this Tuesday and that Monday, but that taking all this together, what is the straw that breaks the camel’s back?… We have to think outside the box about how to avoid an explosion in 2017.”
Makovsky said a couple of other things that should be reported. He asserted that Israel’s economy is so strong that its GDP (presumably GDP per capita) “is about to surpass France. Believe it or not, it’s two years out from surpassing France. It is about halfway through of the top 24 OECD countries, the more advanced industrial states.” And remember: this is the country to which the U.S. sends more than half of its aid to the entire world.
Makovsky also said that while the Jewish community is critical of Secretary of State John Kerry, “I have respect for the man. He’s relentless in wanting to resolve the problem.” Makovsky worked on Kerry’s negotiation team in 2014; and “I saw the relentlessness up close.”
Just to give you a little story, I asked his personal assistant who logs his calls, Who was the person he talked to the most during the time I was in government. He said, “It’s not close. It was Bibi Netanyahu.” I said, “Who was second place?” “[Sergey] Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia.” I said, “Was it 50-50?” He said, “It was I think 4 to 1 Netanyahu to Lavrov, but maybe at best, three to one… that’s a very generous way to say how much he talked to Lavrov.” In other words he was very consumed. We were writing the talking points for the secretary of state and we couldn’t write them fast enough, because the calls were coming so quickly.
John Kerry said in December at the Saban Forum that he’d talked to Netanyahu a lot:
I’ve spent four years now in the most intensive effort I think – I don’t think – I asked my staff to go back and read the record. I have talked to Bibi Netanyahu more than 375 times in this term. That’s only the public recording, because I was in the habit of picking up the phone and calling him at home or calling him here and there and just getting him eating. I’ve talked to him in those public transactions more than 130 hours. My wife accused me of having talked to him more than I’ve talked to her in these four years.
By the way, Makovsky spoke at the 92d Street Y in his capacity as a shotgun for Israel lobby groups (the Lynn and Charles Schusterman Foundation and the Israel on Campus Coalition) deploring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) on campus. He mischaracterized that campaign in a couple of ways. I’ll return to this in days to come.